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6 Tips For A Better Body Image

Poor body image seems to be everywhere, and the gym is no exception. But this can be changed. Here are six ways to boost body image for yourself and other gym-goers. Healing bad body image doesn’t happen overnight, but every positive step you take toward creating a better relationship with your body counts.

1. Quit Equating Fitness with Thinness
Lots of people exercise to lose weight, hoping it will improve health. And it usually does. But is a low percentage of body fat always a reliable sign of good health? For many people, thinness does not guarantee improved health. On the other hand, research shows that regular physical activity does.

Researchers at The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas, have tested tens of thousands of men and women in their laboratory. During the course of their research, they discovered a high level of fitness was a better predictor of longevity than body weight or size. In one study, the researchers found that fat, fit men had overall lower death rates than normal-weight men who were unfit.

2. Challenge Fit-Body Stereotypes
Just as some people are taller than others, some are naturally heavier. It’s that simple. So judging a person’s fitness level by some ideal body weight is absurd. Those who believe that being fit means squeezing into an impossible physical standard may never achieve body satisfaction.

Challenging stereotypes and expectations about what a fit body looks like is an important step toward fostering better body image in exercise settings. For example, do you automatically judge fitness instructors or personal trainers by how thin or muscular they are? Looking ultra-fit doesn’t automatically qualify someone as a good fitness professional. Qualities such as education, experience and expertise matter most.

3. Focus on Body Esteem
Most people strive to look good, that’s natural, but don’t let it overshadow the many other benefits of why you work out. Body esteem means recognizing the positive things your body can do and feel, regardless of how you look. Boost your body esteem during the stretch/relaxation portion of your workout by imagining two to three ways that regular exercise—not its associated weight loss—improves your quality of life.

Are you able to more easily hike up a mountain to enjoy the panoramic view? Does working out help dissolve office-related stress? Make this process part of your exercise experience to help combat body image concerns.

4. Question Image-Conscious Comments
Ever heard a fitness instructor or personal trainer insinuating that you have to exercise harder because, say, “bathing suit season is coming”? Research shows that some exercisers may thrive on this type of motivation while others are turned off by it. It appears that, for some women, these image-conscious comments make their body image woes worse. For them, it deflates exercise motivation.

If the latter example sounds like you, don’t be afraid to politely and discretely approach fitness instructors or trainers who make image-conscious comments to let them know, one-on-one, how you feel.

5. Go for Healthy Eating, Not Food Obsession
Avoid obsessing over food with other gym members. Exercise is not punishment for eating a high-calorie meal or dessert. Treating yourself occasionally isn’t a problem as long as you eat healthy, energizing foods most of the time. Overall healthy eating allows for occasionally consuming higher-fat foods.

6. Speak Up About Fitness Advertising
Take a close look at the flyers and newspaper ads selling fitness clubs in your area. Advertisements depicting young fitness models with perfect bodies are too common in the fitness industry. But these overused images are intimidating to a lot of people! And they mask the industry’s current direction toward more inclusive and diverse programming for people of all ages, shapes and skill levels.

As a fitness consumer, don’t hesitate to speak up about the fitness ads you see. If you spot one you’re especially drawn to because of its positive message or images, let the company owner or manager know how you feel. Do the same for ones that you find offensive or intimidating; if you’re part of the club’s target market, they may be interested to hear your impressions.

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